Killing of Detroit Imam in 2009 Described As “Nothing Less Than a Cover-Up”

In October 2009, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, an imam at a mosque on Detroit's West Side, was fatally shot by law enforcement more than 20 times. The FBI claimed he was armed; supporters suspect a cover-up.

Akil Fahd, right, protests with others outside the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. The protesters want an independent investigation into the death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, a Detroit imam killed in a shootout with federal agents.   (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Akil Fahd, right, protests with others outside the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. The protesters want an independent investigation into the death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, a Detroit imam killed in a shootout with federal agents. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) Photo: Carlos Osorio/AP

On October 28, 2009, dozens of heavily armed FBI agents swarmed a warehouse in Dearborn, Michigan, to execute an arrest warrant against Luqman Ameen Abdullah, 53, and several other men, who had been accused of fencing stolen merchandise. What exactly happened next remains in dispute, but the raid resulted in Abdullah being shot more than 20 times and dying on the scene.

An FBI press release issued later that day said that Abdullah, an imam at a mosque on Detroit’s West Side, “did not surrender and fired [a] weapon. An exchange of gun fire followed and Abdullah was killed.”

This version of events has been fiercely contested by Abdullah’s lawyers and family, as well as an eyewitness to the shooting. Now, representatives of Abdullah’s estate are attempting to take his case to the Supreme Court, arguing that he was unlawfully killed during the 2009 encounter, and that the FBI and local law enforcement staged a cover-up.

“We hope to finally see justice in this case after nearly six years of denial and obfuscation,” Lena Masri, an attorney with CAIR-Michigan who helped file the lawsuit last month, told The Intercept.

Previous court challenges related to Abdullah’s case have been dismissed on technical grounds, and a Department of Justice investigation into the shooting cleared the FBI of wrongdoing. Despite this, Abdullah’s family and the local community remain skeptical of the official narrative of his death.

Abdullah’s autopsy results — which showed not just bullet wounds, but also injuries inflicted by an FBI K-9 dog — and inflammatory comments made by FBI agents following his death, have contributed to continued outrage over Abdullah’s case and allegations that his death was an unjustified killing.

The investigation into Abdullah and his Detroit-area mosque lasted over four years and involved the use of multiple government informants who infiltrated the local community to gather information on Abdullah and other mosque patrons. After his death, Abdullah was described by the FBI in a criminal affidavit as being the leader of a “radical, fundamentalist” African-American Muslim group seeking to impose Sharia law across the United States.

However, despite years of intense government surveillance, Abdullah was never actually accused of any terrorism offenses. On the day of his death, the FBI had instead executed a warrant against him for conspiracy to sell stolen goods, firearms violations, and for altering motor vehicle identification numbers. In an interview about the case in the book The Muslims are Coming, by New York University professor Arun Kundnani, the FBI agent in charge of the raid, Andrew Arena, described Abdullah as “the leader of a domestic terrorist group,” while stating that no terrorism charges were brought because “where we don’t charge a person with terrorism, [we] charge them with whatever we can, to get them off the streets.”

During the arrest raid, Abdullah suffered severe lacerations to his face and a broken jaw after he was mauled by a police dog. He was hit with over 20 bullets, and died at the scene. After the shooting, the lawsuit alleges, FBI agents sealed off the warehouse, preventing local law enforcement from entering the premises for at least an hour. The lawsuit further alleges that Abdullah was denied medical treatment, while the FBI K-9 that mauled him was airlifted to a local hospital to receive treatment for gunshot wounds.

The government later stated that the K-9 had been killed by shots fired from a gun by Abdullah, a claim disputed in the lawsuit, as well as by an eyewitness to the shooting, who has stated that Abdullah was unarmed. The witness, who was also arrested in the raid, states in the lawsuit that Abdullah was shot by FBI agents while he was laying prone and attempting to defend himself from the police dog.

For many in the Detroit community who knew Abdullah, the circumstances of his death and the intensity of the government effort that targeted him beforehand remain deeply troubling. A government informant who had infiltrated the community, and went by the name “Jibril,” was present on the day of the raid but has not been seen by congregants of Abdullah’s mosque since. Several other informants involved in the case, whose identities remain unknown, are widely believed to still be present in the Detroit area.

Luqman Abdullah, second from left. FBI informant “Jibril,” third from left.

The criminal complaint against Abdullah alleged that he was connected to former black nationalist Jamil al-Amin, also known as H. Rap Brown. Amin, who was a prominent 1960s radical with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers, is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of shooting a police officer in 2002. According to informants in Abdullah’s case, Abdullah was deeply aggrieved about Amin’s imprisonment and angry at the U.S. government for what he viewed to be a fraudulent case against Amin.

Abdullah’s son, actor and comedian Omar Regan, has described his father’s killing as “unfinished business from COINTELPRO,” the federal government’s 1960s campaign that targeted radical movements.

While the government and national media have generally portrayed Abdullah as the leader of a violent extremist gang, and highlighted numerous anti-government statements he made in the presence of covert informants, local activists have painted a more complex picture of him, saying that he was widely admired in Detroit for funding social programs and combating local drug dealers.

Dawud Walid, who knew Abdullah for many years and now serves as executive director of CAIR-Michigan, told The Intercept that despite Abdullah’s often-incendiary criticism of the U.S. government, he was viewed as a positive force among the residents of his impoverished Detroit neighborhood, organizing soup kitchens and housing for the poor through the auspices of his mosque. “I knew him for a long time, and he was an essential part of that West Side Detroit community, among both Muslims and non-Muslims,” Walid said.

For many in that community, the suspicion that Abdullah was killed while unarmed continues to linger. “The government never conducted any gunshot residue tests nor did they produce any physical evidence tying Abdullah to the gun that they later alleged was his,” Walid said. “The entire investigation and subsequent killing of Imam Abdullah was nothing less than a cover-up, and a fraud engineered on the part of the government.”

The FBI declined to comment, citing pending litigation, but said that its own internal investigation had found the shooting to have been justified.

Caption: Akil Fahd, right, protests with others outside the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. 

Join The Conversation